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New York City
May 2001


Matilda Cuomo and Maria Cuomo Cole: A Mutual Admiration Society
by Merri Rosenberg

The relationship between Matilda Cuomo and her daughter, Maria Cuomo Cole suggests that as much as mothers influence their daughters, daughters can exert a similarly powerful influence on their mothers when there is a mutually admiring relationship.

As First Lady of New York State, when her husband Mario was governor, Matilda founded the non-profit Mentoring USA foundation to offer children guidance and assistance from caring adults, a program that has since gone on to be a national model. For her part, Maria, through her work with Help USA as Chairperson, an agency that offers a variety of services to formerly homeless families, has brought the same passion and dedication to making the world a better place.

In fact, Matilda would argue it’s because of Maria that she is as involved as she is in the mentoring program.

“When my son Andrew became secretary of HUD, they asked me, ‘what are you doing with your mentoring program?’” Matilda recalls. “Andrew called me and said, ‘Maria wants to talk to you.’ Since Help USA does transitional housing for women who are homeless, who better needs a mentor for their children? The idea is that there will be a continuum of care for these women. It was a natural fit.” A key component of her mentoring is that she draws upon the children’s own particular ethnic heritage and helps them appreciate it as a positive force in their lives.

A former teacher herself who stayed home to raise her five children, Matilda says that few experiences have been as rewarding as motherhood, or seeing her children follow her example of leadership in the area of service to others.

She was always as actively involved in her community as she was with her family. As head of the Queens chapter of the American Cancer Society, she launched the daffodil sale fund-raising campaign. “I went to all the hotels and had them buy the flowers,” she describes. “The daffodils were in my garage in Queens. My kids knew about my involvement. It was one of our projects every year. It was important for the children to get involved in this way.”

The Cuomo children figured out at a very early age what values were important to their parents. For Maria, her mother’s example was both obvious and admired. “She’s always been such a dynamic force,” she says. “Now as an adult and as a mother myself, I think a lot of her involvement: she was a full-time mother, who was supporting my father’s full-time career, but she also found time to help her community. Even when we were small, we did the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the American Cancer Society, and she was always organizing the community for more school enrichment programs. Of course she did the PTA. Her service to the community was through her family, and through her church.”

Their deeply felt and practiced Catholic faith also supplied the family with motivation towards service. As Matilda puts it, “When you think about faith, there’s an understanding that there’s something bigger than you are out there.” For her daughter, her family’s sense that public service helped to make the world a better place, and work toward the fulfillment of God’s plan, was deeply embedded in her own value system.

Matilda also believed strongly that, because the family was one generation removed from immigrants, her family understood how important it was to help those who were trying to step onto the American ladder.

“We were not rich,” she says. “My husband and I came from an immigrant generation. It gave my children an awareness of poor people, and the idea of how you could help other people. We had been blessed, and we felt that we should try to give something back.”

It’s no accident that her mother has such empathy towards the new immigrants, says Maria. When Matilda entered public school, as a first grader, her mother, who was primarily Italian speaking, took her into the building to register her. A dismissive and scornful administrator arbitrarily changed Matilda’s given name of Mattia to an English version, and was disrespectful to her mother.

“My mother tells that story with such empathy for my grandmother,” says Maria. “It made my mother comfortable in asserting her own character. My mother has always remained exceptionally loyal to her past. She was from Flatbush in Brooklyn, went to Midwood high school, and her Italian-American culture and heritage have always been very important to her. Mom worked to support the Italian-American community.”

The tradition of service to others continues in the grandchildren generation. As just one example, Maria’s 12-year-old daughter, Emily founded a committee at her school to supply and stuff book bags for homeless children to take to school.

Matilda’s pride in her now-grown children’s activities radiates through her words. “Each one of them has developed into a socially conscious human being,” she says. “I think getting involved in public service is an asset for your children. They gained and absorbed the best parts of getting involved. Even when the kids were young, Mario would talk to the children about his issues at every Saturday and Sunday dinner.”

Perhaps most important, stresses Maria, is her mother’s ability to make life fun. “She is a very infectiously charming person, and her creativity and humor a very important influence on my life,” she describes. “She made everything, and every day, fun. And both of my parents have the most respectful manners, with a strong belief in the dignity of human potential. It’s an inherent part of their character, and the character of our family. My mother, with all her experiences of life, has remained completely down to earth and totally idealistic. There’s no cynicism. If I can have even one-quarter of that strength of character, so authentic and steadfast, I’d be happy.”

And there’s no mistaking the mutual mother-daughter admiration society(not limited simply to Matilda’s relationship with Maria).

“I consider all my five children a blessing,” says Matilda. “They’ve turned out so beautifully.”


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.


©1997 Susan May Tell,
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